Archive for the 'Storytelling' Category

Why it’s important for leaders to maintain a “learner’s mind”

Over the past decade as a hospice volunteer I have supported dozens of patients in telling their life stories and preserving them for future generations.

More often than not, patients were energized by the process of reviewing their lives. In addition, as they reflected on their experiences they often discovered an overarching sense of purpose that was previously invisible to them. 

And almost always they would tell stories that were meaningful to me, such as this one I offered in an April 2015 post.

When leaders’ egos grow too tall

“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my table mate at a Washington, DC meeting of high-level officials whispered to me as a prominent member of the education establishment entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true.

I was reminded of that meeting when Jean, a patient I was visiting in my role as a hospice volunteer, shared with me a simple but profound poem she had recently written:

“The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./And those whose ego grew too tall will have to learn to bend.” 

While Jean was describing the “long, dark corridor” of her own life as it narrowed in her 90s, her warning regarding egos that grow too tall without learning to bend also obviously applies to education leaders.

Signs that a leader’s ego has grown too tall include:

• Enjoying hearing himself or herself talk, usually at great length, rather than listening to others.

• Believing that he or she generally knows more than others, including being the only one with the wisdom to understand problems and how to solve them.

Ways in which leaders can learn to bend:

• Maintaining a “learner’s mind.” Leaders with such mindsets assume that they may not know what they don’t know.

• Recognizing that the perspectives of others are essential in identifying and solving problems.That means that they seek first to understand by spending far more time listening than speaking.

• Remembering that while leaders have unique roles and responsibilities, those who are successful cultivate a community of equals rather than one of  privilege and hierarchy.

What have I missed?

We all want to share the important stories of our lives

Since 2012 I have republished some version of this essay to recognize StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening.

Here’s what I said then that is as important today as it was 6 years ago.

Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to share the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives. 

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder. 

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories. 

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

What is your preferred style of conversation?

Most of us have one or two favorite styles of conversation.

1. Some people prefer fast-paced, serial monologues during which what each person says may or may not be linked with what the previous speaker said.

2. Other people like to recount the facts of their days.

3. Still others tell stories.

4. Some people prefer to ask questions.

5. Less common, in my experience, are people who prefer conversations in which they and others disclose important but often invisible things about themselves.

6. Even less common is a conversational approach in which speakers offer a point of view in the spirit of dialogue, not to convince others but to stimulate their thinking and to better understand their points of view. In short, to be influenced as well as to influence.

Style 1 seems ego based. Style 3 offers speakers a way to share experiences through compelling (hopefully) narratives that move beyond recitations of facts, while style 4 is driven by curiosity.

I personally find styles 5 and 6 the most engaging because they enable participants to move beneath surface appearances and understandings.

While resilient people are often skillful in blending styles (for instance, telling a story, asking an open and honest question, and seeking a deeper understanding through dialogue), most of us rely on one or two approaches.

Which style or styles of conversation do you prefer?

“Everyone can relate to a story”

“[O]ne of the best ways to relate to somebody is not to lecture them, but to tell them a story….” —Mitch Albom

“The reason that I never fear when they say journalism or print journalism is dead is that the world has always told stories, and it will always have to tell stories. The first thing I would say to leaders of any kind is everyone can relate to a story, and if you learn how to tell a story, whether that is your vision for a company, or just a way to be empathetic toward your customers or a way to just understand the world, if you put it in a storytelling form, as opposed to a didactic, factual PowerPoint presentation, everyone will be able to relate to it.” —Mitch Albom

A village was having a celebration on the banks of a river when someone noticed that a child was being swept past the picnic grounds in a torrent of water. A line of citizens was quickly formed, and the child was pulled to safety.

Moments later someone observed that several more children were being swept past in the river. Again a line was formed, and the children were rescued.

But soon more children filled the fast-moving river, so many in the fact that the villagers no longer had the strength to pull them out.

In their exhaustion a citizen of the village pointed out that aerobic and strength training should be offered in the village hall so that should this happen again they would be stronger and better prepared. Someone else said that a CPR class should also be scheduled.

A final voice was heard with the suggestion that the village should quickly make its way upstream to find out who or what was throwing the children into the river.

This story, which I heard told many years ago, illustrates at least two points:

  • “System problems,” that is problems that have their source in interacting variables larger than the current circumstance, cannot be solved by training alone.
  • The power of a story to make an important point about a complex idea. People tend to “lean into” stories and away from fact-laden lectures.

What is your experience in using stories to make important points?

Everyone has an important story to tell

Everyone has a story to tell, and, given an opportunity, we all want to tell the important stories of our lives, stories that explain who we are and where we came from, that prove we existed and mattered, that demonstrate our resilience, and that reveal the people and events that affected our lives.

And we can all learn important lessons from one another’s stories.

StoryCorps’ “National Day of Listening” provides an opportunity to evoke those stories.

On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks everyone to take a few minutes to record an interview with a family member or friend.

You can use recording equipment that is readily available to you, such as a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other voice or video recorder.

StoryCorps provides a free Do It Yourself Instruction Guide.

The lesson that everyone has an important story to tell has been reinforced time and again for me as a hospice volunteer who has been privileged to record dozens of hospice patients discussing their lives in conversations with family members.

All that is required of us is to extend the invitation and to listen deeply without interruption to those stories.

Once the conversation begins, it’s likely to proceed almost effortlessly, at least in my experience.

Some possible questions include:

• What elders or events influenced the person you’ve become?

• How would you like to be remembered?

• What advice would you like to pass along to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or others in your life?

There’s no gift human beings can give one another that is more important and precious than our undivided attention and genuine interest in the stories we all have to tell.

When that attention promotes storytelling that is preserved with video or voice recordings, it is a gift that benefits future generations for decades to come.

Consider:

How have stories and storytelling shaped your life?

To whom would you like to reach out—an elder, a family member or friend, a veteran, a colleague, or a neighbor, for example—to invite his or her storytelling?

[This post is adapted from one first published at Thanksgiving 2012. I have updated the links.]

What is your story?

For many years I had the privilege of interviewing leading educators regarding their views on various aspects of professional learning for articles that were published in NSDC’s (now Learning Forward) JSD (now The Learning Professional).

They were educators whose ideas have proved resilient over the intervening decades (Michael Fullan and Peter Senge, for example), and the stories they shared, sometimes couched in technical terms, about how individuals learn and organizations change demonstrated the link between resilience, influence, and storytelling.

The stories these “influencers” told often revealed the people, experiences, and values that animated both their personal and professional lives.

Here is such a story from my life:

Early in my teaching career I attended an inspiring and practical 3-day workshop on what was then called “mastery teaching.” My big “take away” was that virtually all students could learn virtually everything I wanted them to know given sufficient time and “correctives,” and that their improved grades would reflect that learning.

Soon after I returned to my school, however, I realized that to implement what I had learned I had to overcome a significant barrier in the form of my principal who believed that good teachers should distribute grades more or less on a normal-distribution curve slightly skewed to the high side to show that we were making a positive difference.

His strongly-held belief posed a problem – how would I give grades that he would accept that would also reflect the higher-levels of learning I anticipated in my classroom?

We met, and he decided to allow an experiment with one of my classes if I brought all student work to him for review for the remainder of the school year. (The experiment concluded at the end of the school year when I moved on to another assignment.)

Over the years I told that story many times to illustrate:

• The power of beliefs to shape professional practice.

• That unless professional development addressed the existing beliefs of teachers and administrators the innovations would flounder and likely fail.

Stories can shape attitudes (often unconsciously), bond groups, teach important lessons, and provide guidance and motivation.

They can be used in:

• classrooms

• faculty meetings

• family gatherings

• with friends

What stories have you used or might you use to teach, guide, or motivate?

Seeing the world through the eyes of others

People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time. Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort. —Seth Godin

There is pretty much universal agreement that empathy is a desirable human quality, and it’s an attribute often found in resilient people.

• Empathy is the basis of clear communication. Understanding the view points of others is essential to effective communication in families and work settings.

• Empathy enables us to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Without it people cannot really understand one another.

• Empathy enriches our lives by opening our minds to the experiences and perspectives of others.

• Empathy decreases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict and even wars.

Given its importance, why is empathy so often difficult to achieve for so many of us?

• We may believe that demonstrating understanding of others’ points of view is the same as agreeing with them.

• We fear that our willingness to fully understand others’ points of view will signal weakness on our part.

• We are aware that empathy opens us to being influenced by others, which, in turn, may create cognitive dissonance that requires us to change our viewpoint and perhaps even our behavior. Put another way, we understand that empathy may be the first step on a slippery slope that will lead us to significant change.

“Tell me a story.”

In my experience the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of others is to invite them to tell us a story about an influential elder, a formative event in their lives, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Better yet, tell others a story from your own life related to the subject at hand and invite them to do the same.

Storytelling is a powerful way to:

• deepen understanding of others’ points of view,

• establish common ground for resolving conflicts and making decisions, and

• strengthen relationships with significant people in our lives.

What practices or tools enable you to create empathy with others?


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